By Rhondalyn K. Peairs and Diane Galatowitsch
Creator: Daniels, Jimmy (1908-1984)
Extent: 1.75 Linear Feet
Date Acquired: 02/01/1987
The Rex Madsen and Jimmy Daniels photograph collection documents the life of Jimmy Daniels and his career as a a nightclub host and entertainer during the Harlem Renaissance and into the 1950s and 1960s. The collection measures 1.75 linear feet and is comprised mainly of photographs from circa 1870s-1970s. Many of the photographs are from Daniels' years at the Bon Soir nightclub in Greenwich Village during the 1950s. Additional items include musical scores, invitations, postcards, and additional ephemera.
The majority of the photographs document Daniels' life as an entertainer, cabaret singer, and nightclub host. While a great many of the photographs picture Daniels either in portraits or in candid and posed shots with others, the collection also presents a "who's who" of African American and White entertainers, musicians, and society figures. Besides Daniels, other individuals represented in the collection include: Pearl Bailey, Josephine Baker, Tullula Bankhead, Richmond Barthe, Harry Belafonte, Tony Benson, Phil Black, Helen Broderick, Marian Bruce, John Butler, Cab Calloway, Karen Chandler, Aileen Cook, Katherine Cornell, Carmen De Lavallade, Phyllis Diller, Blanche Dunn, Annie Winifred Ellerman (Bryher), Alice Ghostley, Eddie Hodges, Geoffrey Holder, Langston Hughes, Alberta Hunter, Maria Eva Isadegna, Herbert Jacoby, Lotte Lenya, Joe Louis, Rex Madsen, Fania Marinoff, Paul Meeres, Mabel Mercer, Ona Munson, Rose Murphy, Cole Porter, Millicent Rogers, Diana Sands, Joan Shaw, Bobby Short, Ada "Bricktop" Smith, Norene Tate, Edna Thomas, Tom Tryon, Carl Van Vechten, Elisabeth Welch, Ethel Waters, Josh White, Roy Wilkins, Billie Dee Williams, Jimmy Wright, Olivia Wyndam, and Ted Yates. Nightclubs, restaurants, and entertainment venues in New York from the 1920s to the 1950s are represented in the collection. The collection also documents, to an extent, gay and lesbian circles in New York and England during the early 20th century. The nineteenth century photographs include a tintype and cabinet cards; little documentation accompanies these images, but they may be photographs of Daniels' family.
Of interest are over 50 photographs by Carl Van Vechten, as well as sixteen photographs depicting sculptures by Richmond Barthe. Additional materials within the collection include musical scores and printed ephemera for musical performances. Some descriptions of the photographs in this collection are derived from a transcription of an oral narrative provided by Rex Madsen, which is housed in the accession file for this collection.
James Lesley Daniels, Jimmy (Jimmie) Daniels, 1908-1984, was a gay African American nightclub host and cabaret singer who was widely known as a general host and singer at the Bon Soir nightclub in Greenwich Village, New York. Daniels' music primarily included the songs of the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, and Cole Porter, as well as Harold Arlen.
Jimmy Daniels was born in Laredo, Texas, in 1908, but he grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. Daniels left Arkansas and came to New York in the 1920s to go to Bird's Business College in the Bronx to become a secretary. After finishing school, Daniels returned to Little Rock to become a secretary for A.E. Bush, the president of Century Life Insurance Company.
However, not long after, he returned to New York in 1928 with a desire to leave the office-world and go on stage. After someone he knew introduced him to Katherine Cornell's manager, he landed a part in Cornell's Broadway hit, "Dishonored Lady." Following his start on Broadway, Daniels performed briefly with "Savage Rhythm" and the Chamberlain-Brown Stock Company in Mt. Vernon.
Leaving Broadway, Daniels found his first professional singing job at the Hot Cha nightclub in Harlem, but he quickly became a part of the European music scene. In the summer of 1933, he became popular at the Summer Sporting club in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Between 1933 and 1934, he accompanied the internationally famous Reginald Forsythe at Ciro's in London. Not long after, Daniels returned to New York and became the premier entertainer at Marian Cooley's Sunday night suppers at the Ship Grill.
In 1935, Daniels went out on his own and sponsored a series of parties for three seasons at the Bronze Studio. During this time, he met Herbert Jacoby, who convinced him to come to Paris to entertain at his Le Reubon Blue in 1936 and 1937. When Jacoby opened a spot in New York, Jimmy Daniels became a popular attraction. However, Daniels returned to Paris in 1938 to perform at Le Reubon Blue.
After singing throughout Europe during the thirties, Daniels became popular in New York nightlife. In 1939, he opened Jimmie Daniels' Nightclub at 114 West 116th Street, an establishment that the New Yorker described as the "model of dignity and respectability" by "Harlem standards." Daniels owned and operated the Harlem supper club from 1939 to 1942. He left the club to go into the military.
Around 1950, Daniels became the host at the Bon Soir on West 8th Street, a chic supper club. Known as a place where African Americans and Whites, as well as gay and straight clientele, interacted without tension, the club was described as having a balance of elegant, intimate, risque, and respectable ambiance. Jimmy Daniels was a popular figure at the Bon Soir for ten years as the host/singer/emcee. The club hosted a variety of rising stars, such as Barbra Streisand, Phyllis Diller, and Kaye Ballard. The Bon Soir was Barbra Streisand's first engagement in New York. When the owners of the Bon Soir let Daniels go after ten years, the club lost substantial business and they begged him to return, but he did not. During the 1950s, Daniels shared a house on Banks Street with fashion designer Rex Madsen.
Circa 1960, after Daniels left the Bon Soir, he hosted what he called "a spring series of supper soirees" at the L'Etang Supper Club in lower Manhattan. Daniels continued to perform around the city at clubs, parties, and festivals until his death. Daniels died at age 76 in the summer of 1984 at St. Clare's Hospital in Manhattan after suffering from a stroke.
Access Restrictions: The Rex Madsen and Jimmy Daniels Photograph Collection is open and available for use.
Use Restrictions: Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.
Acquisition Source: Rex Madsen
Acquisition Method: Gift
Appraisal Information: The Rex Madsen and Jimmy Daniels Photograph Collection documents Jimmy Daniels' career as a singer/host for night clubs in Europe and Harlem, primarily between 1930-1960, with the majority from his time at the Bon Soir nightclub in Greenwich Village in the 1950s.
The Center also houses the following artwork in its Fine Arts Collection, both of which are depicted in photographs within the Madsen-Daniels collection and were donated at the same time. as the photograph collection.
Richmond Barthe. Shoeshine Boy, 1938. Bronze, height 10 in.
Riohmond Barthe. Portrait of Kenneth MacPherson, circa 1938. Bronze, height 12 in.
Related Materials: The Amistad Research Center also holds the papers for the Harlem Renaissance sculptor Richmond Barthe and poet/playwright Countee Cullen.
Related Publications: Lewis, David L. When Harlem Was in Vogue. New York: Knopf, 1981.
Preferred Citation: Rex Madsen and Jimmy Daniels Photograph Collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
Processing Information: The processing of this collection was completed between September-October 2002 and April-May 2003.
Finding Aid Revision History: Reprocessed July 2011.